Tag Archives: church finances

Historical Unitarian church accounting!

I ran across an American Unitarian Association booklet “Church finance and accounting” — undated, but having internal examples suggesting 1914 — that makes for fun reading.

On the one hand, some things were very different then. It includes a review of the proprietor (pew owner) and pew rental system, and deprecates both to the free-pew (not that we call it that) system we have today, “the most modern and democratic way of financing a church, and is the system adopted in most new churches.” I can’t imagine the first two options today.

On the other hand, more seemed very familiar. I’m a member of Universalist National Memorial Church, Washington and we had a congregational meeting last Sunday. We reviewed financials that were more like those suggested than not.

The booklet was also full of candid advice. One good example:

Business-like methods in the financial administration of a church are of vital importance to the welfare of the society. Inefficient administration, hand-to-mouth ways of raising money, carelessness or tardiness in the payment of bills, usually indicate low vitality in a church, and are a constant source of danger and invitation to financial calamity.

Sample collection envelope text
And also a set of worked examples with charming fictitious churches. I might have to revive a couple for my own work:

  • Church of Our Father, Hope City, Colorado (a mission church)
  • Unity Church, Winterboro, Mass.
  • All Souls’ Church, Washington Square, Oakwood, N. Y. (obviously old and wealthy)
  • All Souls’ Church, Canterbury, Mich.
  • Unity Church, New Boston, Oregon

Patience while I review the numbers

So now I’m curious what the total congregational expenditures and membership numbers tell us. How much church “do you get” for the money? This goes right to the question of church development.

These are fair, but rarely asked questions when the promoted culture is “give, baby, give.” Must you have $2,000 to spare per head to be a Unitarian Universalist? Or more? And what if you think the money is — frankly — better used elsewhere?

It’ll take me some time to review the numbers.